A Unique Partnership
The latest advocate of social-emotional development (SED) at Hoosick Falls Central School (HFCS) is tolerant, kind, and very understanding. She also doesn’t say much, sheds, and needs periodic grooming.
Kady, a 110-pound, eight-and-a-half-year-old Newfoundland, spends her days comforting, calming, and inspiring students alongside her best friend and handler, Michael Manning.
“Kady came to me when she was one-and-a-half years old,” said Manning. “Her journey to being a therapy dog started soon-after.”
In the past seven years, Manning and Kady have attended multiple trainings apart or together, putting in many hours of hard work to become the team they are today. Kady has attended multiple obedience trainings and is a certified therapy dog. Manning is a dog trainer and a certified therapy dog handler.
“It’s been a long process, but one we’ve enjoyed together,” added Manning.
When Manning and Kady attended obedience training with Dog Logic in the South Glens Falls area, the owner asked Manning to do a mentorship as a dog trainer. He agreed and began additional coursework in dog training and dog psychology.
Early on, Manning recognized that Kady had a way of connecting with people. She was naturally calm and very friendly and responded well to the obedience training. Manning investigated animal-assisted therapy and he and Kady then trained with Share-A-Pet, a non-profit, national Pet Therapy organization. Kady and Manning went through an extensive process with Share-A-Pet to become a certified animal-assisted therapy team. The certification process included multiple evaluations and thousands of hours of practice and supervised experience. Animal-Assisted-Therapy teams most often work in children’s centers and schools, nursing homes, hospitals, and cancer centers.
Manning also became an evaluator for Share-A-Pet and for the American Kennel Club (AKC) as a good citizen canine evaluator.
“Not every dog can be a therapy dog,” he said. “To start with, the dog must be well socialized with people and other dogs, walk on a leash without pulling, and enjoy being handled. Kady loves being around kids and, while she looks to me for guidance sometimes, she relies on her instincts and training to know what to do when someone is hurting.”
History of Animal-Assisted Therapy
The idea of animal-assisted therapy has been around for centuries, dating back to ancient Greece. In the 1940’s the American Red Cross and the Army Air Corps established a farm where recuperating veterans could interact with and take care of animals. This helped comfort them while they were healing from war injuries and other illnesses.
Sigmund Freud often brought his dog, Jo-Fi, to his office and included him in his therapy sessions. Dr. Boris Levinson was the first to do formal research on the subject in the early 1960s. He was inspired after he witnessed one of his patients, a withdrawn, mentally-impaired boy, interacting with his dog, Jingles. Both noticed the calming effect their pets had on their clients, especially children.
April Myers, a one-on-one aide at HFCS, can verify that Kady has the same effect on the child she works with at the school. “I’ve witnessed an improvement in the child’s social interactions, better eye contact, greater self-control, and less anxiety for the student,” said Myers. “Kady has also helped to improve the child’s muscle-tone, as they often walk together for exercise.”
A Positive Impact
As more studies are completed, there is building evidence for the positive effects of animal-assisted therapy. The benefits include: improved focus and attention; increased self-esteem; reduced anxiety and grief; decreased feelings of depression and isolation; a reduction in blood pressure and in the risk of heart attack and stroke; increased trust and empathy; enhanced problem-solving skills; and improved social skills.
A Special Connection
“After we earned our certification as an animal-assisted therapy team,“ said Manning, “I first brought Kady to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. That was okay, but she seemed to really enjoy and respond to interactions with children. I started calling around to schools and we visited a few. It wasn’t until we came to Hoosick Falls Central School that we felt a strong connection with the staff and students.”
Manning came to Hoosick Falls after meeting HFCS Special Education Teacher Amy Ferullo. Ferullo was fascinated with the work Manning was doing and encouraged him to bring Kady to meet her students. The strong bond between the students at HFCS and Kady quickly became evident.
“Kady just seems to know when someone needs her,” said Ferullo.
“She has a very calming and comforting effect on students and staff alike,” she added. “Her training as a therapy dog is really obvious. We are lucky to have an animal-assisted therapy team with so many years of experience.
“Kady and Mr. Manning have made a huge positive impact on the HFCS family.”
“It’s different with the children at Hoosick Falls,” said Manning. “The kids here love Kady and she truly loves them. It’s been a really great fit and beneficial for everyone.”
On any certain day, staff can see Kady walking the halls of the school and visiting in the classrooms. Students now know they can request a visit with Kady — and many do.
“Mr. Manning and Kady are both very understanding and don’t judge you,” said one high school student. “When I pet her, and talk with Mr. Manning, I just feel better. Kady gives unconditional love and Mr. Manning always listens to what you have to say.”
Said Manning, “I am here to act as Kady’s voice, but I know she connects to others and helps them in ways that go beyond talking. We are trained to work as a team.”
Staff members also like to visit with Kady. “It gives them a little break from their day,” said Manning, “and a chance to recharge before returning to the classroom.”
Kady’s good work does not go unnoticed. Many staff members bring her gifts of homemade biscuits and other treats. Kady accepts the attention and gifts with humility.
“Kady takes everything in stride,” said Manning. “She’ll let me know when she needs a break or some fresh air by how she acts. Most of the time, however, she is tirelessly at work. She helps people get through a tough time or just brings a little joy to someone’s day. I consider myself privileged to be here with her, doing what we love and are trained to do, together.”